Business & Economy

Owners of 2 businesses in Porter Ranch file lawsuit for losses related to gas leak

Patricia Oliver, an attorney with the R. Rex Parris Law Firm, explains a diagram of the ruptured well near Porter Ranch that has been leaking since Oct. 23, 2015.
Patricia Oliver, an attorney with the R. Rex Parris Law Firm, explains a diagram of the ruptured well near Porter Ranch that has been leaking since Oct. 23, 2015.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A local realtor and the owners of a nail salon in Porter Ranch are suing the Southern California Gas Company, its parent Sempra Energy, and two California state agencies for revenue lost due to the Aliso Canyon gas leak and other damages.

Their complaint was filed on Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court and seeks class action status. It says realtor Zack Saab's "entire business has been destroyed because no lender will fund loans to purchase real estate in Porter Ranch," and that "The Nail Garden is now suffering similar losses because so many people were forced to move from the community."

Saab lives with his family in Porter Ranch and heads Saab Properties, a real estate services firm. The complaint says the owners of The Nail Garden — Robert, Diane, and Reem Naaman — live in Los Angeles County. The Nail Garden is located on Rinaldi Street in Northridge in the same shopping center as a Whole Foods market. Reem Naaman lived in Porter Ranch but has moved with her family to a temporary home in La Crescenta to flee the gas leak.

“We have been advertising and building up our clientele based on Porter Ranch residents," said Diane Naaman, who helped open the Nail Garden location in July of 2014. She told KPCC that the high-end nail salon was trying to establish itself with locals and making some progress, but it started losing money in November.  

"Since this [gas leak and subsequent relocation of residents] all began, we have been seeing such a decrease in clients," Naaman said. "When payroll comes up, when rent comes up, we're very squeamish."  

The complaint accuses the gas company, the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission of negligence in constructing and operating the gas wells at Aliso Canyon, creating a public and private nuisance, and unfair business practices. It was filed by attorneys at two law firms, who've also filed a separate lawsuit on behalf some residents and the local nonprofit group Save Porter Ranch. 

A spokeswoman for SoCal Gas and Sempra Energy declined to comment on the complaint and said the companies would respond "through the judicial process." The California Division of Oil and Gas also said it does not comment on pending litigation.  The California Public Utilities Commission did not respond immediately to a request for comment. 

Attorney Patricia Oliver of the R. Rex Paris law firm said this is the first such complaint that she's aware of that was filed in the Porter Ranch matter on behalf of businesses. She expects the class to include a wide range of businesses, from independent coaches who train athletes in the area to real estate firms. 

"The lowest amount of business I've heard of being lost is a 50 percent decline, with the greatest being 'pretty much, there is no business'," Oliver said.

 Based on an estimate of roughly 30,000 people living in Porter Ranch, the complaint says the class action "is likely to include thousands of members." It plans to organize them into five sub-classes: